Huckleberry Skies Forever

February 21, 2023 at 5:39 p.m.
This 1962 photo was taken on Shifter's Hill in Burke, Idaho, showing the author on his first set of skis with sister, Sue, in the background.
This 1962 photo was taken on Shifter's Hill in Burke, Idaho, showing the author on his first set of skis with sister, Sue, in the background. Ralph D. Warner

Ahhhhh! Entering the house after work I'm assailed by the welcome smell of cooking huckleberries. Salivating madly, I drop thermos and work gear and rush into the kitchen to be greeted by the glorious sight of two stupendous Sour Cream Huckleberry pies. Since we didn't have time on our most recent trip to North Idaho to pick many of the tart little taste pleasers, Marta has mixed them with Cran‑Guyma blueberries in order to have enough filling to come up with extra special Peninsula pies.

Those people who are supposed to know say that the sense of smell is tied into our memory somehow. It's easy to believe because the aroma of Huckleberries triggers a spontaneous synaptic response in the deeper recesses of my brain and a flood of long‑forgotten memories brim over.

Summertime in Burke, Idaho meant huckleberrying at the old ballpark, a favorite spot for many of the local residents. While the kids and wives were out gathering berries, the teens and older males would be playing a serious game of softball. Afterwards we'd eat picnic lunches and compare containers of berries for quantity and quality. 

Just behind our big old house on Shifter's Hill was a large patch of huckleberries where many hours were spent with brothers, sisters and cousins accumulating a batch of them. Quite often we'd sell our tasty treasures, knocking on doors with spectacularly bright, purple‑stained fingers.

Marta holding some huckleberries picked on the Montana side of the Bitteroot mountains


I still have a vivid recollection of a three‑day weekend at a cabin on Moon Pass, a bit south of Wallace, Idaho; returning home I became car‑sick and painted the roadside with a few quarts of huckleberries. However, that didn't deter me a bit when it came time for huckleberry cobbler the next day.

I'm not sure how old I was when I first started picking the Elusive Huckleberry. I say ‘elusive’ since, in some years, they are sparse and difficult to find, while in other years the bushes practically lie on the ground they're so loaded. Not only that, but frequently greedy mouths tend to consume far more berries, leaving brilliant telltale stains on the lips, than ever go in a bucket. I must have been seven or eight years old when I began to learn the painstaking art of picking the beloved Hucks. There really is an art to picking them too ‑‑ unlike other berries, the huckleberry requires true concentration and strength of will in order to capture enough to make a pie or, better yet, a cobbler! Indeed, I've found that firmly fixing a large bowl of huckleberry cobbler ala mode in mind is the only realistic way to acquire a full bucket.

When youngsters of my own came along we started huckleberrying on the Fernan Saddle above Fernan and Coeur d'Alene Lakes. Marta and I returned to one spot four years in a row until other brush finally strangled out the huckleberry bushes. After three or four hours of plucking berries in the hot summer sun, a twenty-minute ride brought us to the lake for a cool swim. Then we'd head downtown to one of the local drive‑ins serving huckleberry shakes.

Marta used to can up a few dozen jars of huckleberry jam every year to be given to friends and relatives at Christmas time. One of life's purer pleasures has got to be a late night peanut butter and huckleberry jam homemade bread sandwich washed down with a cold glass of milk. 

On wind‑torn, rain‑filled nights, just like tonight in fact, I know of a sure way to escape the damp and chill. Pulling a plastic bag of frozen Hucks out of the freezer, I mix a few of them with some milk and vanilla ice cream and turn on the blender. As the scent of huckleberry registers in my nostrils, I'm instantly hiking a ridge on the Idaho‑Montana border in the Bitterroot Range. On the Idaho side of the ridge upper and lower Steven's Lakes gleam in the September sun. Below me, on the Montana side, are acres of huckleberries ripening and fermenting in the last heat of summer. Yeah! Thousands, tens of thousands, maybe millions of potential huckleberry shakes just waiting to be sucked through a straw and savored on the tongue before filling an appreciative belly.

The wind rushes up the ridge, flows over leaves which are just beginning to turn red from early morning frosts carrying that magic smell with it as I gaze into Huckleberry Blue Skies forever reflected from the twin lakes at my feet.

Ralph and his wife Marta with the North Head Lighthouse in the background


Ralph Warner and his wife moved to the Long Beach Peninsula from North Idaho in 1987. They now reside in Ocean Park. 

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